Empress Dowager Dong

Empress Dowager Dong (died 189), personal name unknown, formally known as Empress Xiaocheng (孝成皇后), was an empress dowager of han dynasty period of Chinese history. However, she was never empress, because she became mother to an emperor (Emperor Ling). She was blamed for contributing to her son's decadent rule which contributed much to the han dynasty's downfall.


The future Empress Dowager Dong was from Hejian Commandery (roughly modern Baoding, Hebei ). She was the wife of Liu Chang (劉萇), the hereditary Marquess of Jieduting—who had a small fief that consisted either one or at most a few villages, and therefore, despite her husband's nobility status, she was unlikely to have lived in luxury. She gave birth to his heir, Liu Hong (劉宏) in 156. It is not clear whether she had other children. By 168, Marquess Chang was no longer living, and Hong was Marquess of Jieduting.

As empress dowager

In 168, for reasons no longer clear, after Emperor Huan died without an heir, Emperor Huan's wife Empress Dowager Dou selected Marquess Hong to be emperor (as Emperor Ling). He did not honor her as an empress dowager, but rather as an imperial consort. In 169 (after Empress Dowager Dou's clan, including her father Dou Wu, was slaughtered by eunuchs), Emperor Ling welcomed his mother to the capital Luoyang and honored her as an empress dowager, although he also continued to honor Empress Dowager Dou (who was put under house arrest by the eunuchs) as empress dowager. Not until Empress Dowager Dou's death in 172 did Empress Dowager Dong appear to be firm in her title and become involved in politics.

Empress Dowager Dong was said to have heavily encouraged Emperor Ling in his sales of offices for money, a system that highly damaged the Han civil service system and caused great corruption throughout the empire.

In 181, after Emperor Ling's second son Liu Xie (劉協) was born to Consort Wang, Emperor Ling's wife Empress He poisoned Consort Wang. Empress Dowager Dong took Prince Xie and raised him herself, and he was therefore known by the circumspect title "Marquess Dong" (both he and his older brother Liu Bian (劉辯) were referred to as marquesses due to superstitions that evil spirits were aiming to kill the emperor's sons). Empress Dowager Dong favored Prince Xie and often encouraged Emperor LIng to create him crown prince over his older brother, which caused great discord between her and her daughter-in-law, Empress He.

As grand empress dowager and death

In 189, Emperor Ling died without designating an heir. Despite the machinations of his trusted eunuch Jian Shuo to make Prince Xie emperor, Empress He and her brother He Jin were able to put Prince Bian on the throne. Empress He became empress dowager, and she and He Jin began to control the government. Empress Dowager Dong (now grand empress dowager) and her nephew Dong Chong (董重) formed a rival faction at court, and she often argued with Empress Dowager He, once threatening to have Dong Chong decapitate He Jin. He Jin took preemptive action and had Empress Dowager He issue an edict exiling her mother-in-law back to Hejian (in modern Baoding, Hebei ), where her husband's fief was and Dong Chong arrested. Dong Chong committed suicide, and Grand Empress Dowager Dong died soon thereafter—with most historical accounts concluding that she died from fear, but some suggested that she committed suicide. Later that year, after Empress Dowager He was overthrown by Dong Zhuo (no relations to her), her wish of having Prince Xie become emperor did come true, as Dong Zhuo deposed the young emperor and placed Prince Xie on the throne (as Emperor Xian). However, that only hastened the downfall of the dynasty, as Emperor Xian, through no fault of his own, would never have any real power and would eventually be forced to yield his throne to Cao Pi in 220.

Last update 04-04-2012

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